EErnest Hemingway uses a male perspective to reflect his narrative throughout The Sun Also Rises. For the most part this novel centers on masculinity and the perfect male hero of the after-war period. Even though it is hard to see the Hemingway hero in the protagonist alone, the supporting characters bring out what Hemingway considers the mans man qualities.
LLady Brett Ashley, the primary reason for the rivalry between three ex-patriots, Jake Barnes; Robert Cohn; Mike Campbell; and a bull-fighter, Pedro Romero. This woman brings out the true masculinity in every man she meets. In fact, her four love interests demonstrate Hemingways standard definition of a man and masculinity. She indulges in her passion for sex and control, she turns men into swine (Hemingway 144), and Cohn calls her Circe a Greek goddess from the stories of Odyssey. Each man Brett has a relationship with in the novel possesses distinct qualities that enable Hemingway to explore what it is to be truly a man. The Hemingway hero thus is presented as a man of action; of self-discipline and of self-reliance; and of strength and courage to confront all weaknesses, fears, failures, and even death.
Some characters in the novel are emasculated, but still carry great male traits. Jake is one of them. He was wounded in the World War I and is physically impotent as a result. Despite his mental struggle with society, Jake accomplishes successfully Hemingways quest to present the reader with attributes of an absolute man. Jakes way to present himself to the world as well as his actions are very masculine, yet a reader can feel his sensitivity throughout the story. When he went to a cathedral in Bayonne he started to pray:
I knelt and started to pray and prayed for everybody I thought of, Brett and
Mike and Bill and Robert Cohn and myself, and all the bull-fighters,
separately for the ones I liked, and lumping all the rest, then I prayed for
myself again, and while I was praying for myself I found I was getting sleepy,
so I prayed that the bull-fights would be good, and that it would be a fine
fiesta, and that we would get some fishing (Hemingway 97).
In his prayer alone, Jake is portrayed as both manly and caring individual. He prays for his close friends and does not forget to ask for success for his hobbies. It is ironic how Hemingway chose Jake to be impotent because he possesses important guy qualities.
Another impaired individual of the story is Robert Cohn. His wound is different from everybody elses because he never went into the war. He struggles with the fact that he is considered as an outsider and part of the old generation. Despite the fact that Cohn is alienated from the group, he has an affair with Brett and is proud of what happened between them in San Sebastian. He believes that this conquest makes him a hero. He over-exaggerates the significance of their affair and does not understand that Brett simply used him and their brief relationship has no meaning to her. When Cohn is around Brett he acts like a schoolboy in love, which in fact he is, head over heels. Cohn is fascinated by Brett: Theres a certain quality about her, a certain fineness. She seems to be absolutely fine and straight (Hemingway 38). Roberts foolish behavior around Brett blinds him; he doesnt see the fact that Brett is not interested in him and doesnt want him around.
Cohns persistence cannot withstand the competition and soon Romero gains Bretts affection. Roberts old boxing skills, a defense mechanism he once used in college, can no longer pull him out of rough situations. Cohn fails to show strength and courage needed to face circumstances like a man and loses a short fight he has with Romero. Brett falls madly in love with the young bullfighter who is full of afecion for life. Pedro is the second important man in Bretts love life, after Jake. He can also cause Brett to lose her self-control, something Jake could only accomplish before: I cant help it. Im a goner now, anyway. Dont you see the difference? Ive got to do something. Ive got to do something I really want to do. Ive lost my self-respect (Hemingway 183). In contrast, Pedro maintains his self-control. During his first encounter with Brett He felt there was something between them. He must have felt it when Brett gave him her hand. He was being very careful (Hemingway 185). Romero represents a new exciting hero of the moment. He is confident and has a strong will, something he demonstrated in the fight with Cohn. That night
. . . hed been knocked down about fifteen times, and he wanted to fight some more. Brett couldnt hold him, and he got up (Hemingway 202).
Bretts only object of affection that is not dependent on her tenderness is Mike. Like three other admirers, Mike appreciates his fiances beauty, calling her lovely piece with a lovely nose (Hemingway 79). Furthermore, Mike exhibits no self-control when he becomes drunk, making insensitive statements that show his lack of regard for Brett and others. He cannot contemplate Bretts complexities and her relationships. He often makes disrespectful comments, such as: Bretts got a bull-fighter. She had a Jew named Cohn, but he turned out badly. Bretts got a bull-fighter. A beautiful, bloody bull-fighter Hemingway 206-7). Mike is seen as . . . so damned nice and . . . so awful by Brett, her sort of thing (Hemingway 243). Mike betrays Hemingways ideal man. Although he is self-reliant, Mike possesses little self-control or dignity.
Lastly, the only main character that does not have a soft spot for Brett is Jakes good friend, Bill Gorton. In todays world, Bill could be seen as a real testosterone-filled-to-the-full-capacity individual. All he mainly cares about is partying, fishing, bull fighting, in other words Bills primary mission is to have fun. He is always thinks about drinks, even when him and Jake went fishing, he didnt forget to tell Jake to put . . . the wine in the spring up the rod (Hemingway 118) so that the wine will be cooled down for they lunch. He also asked Jake for a wine leather-bottle during the fiesta. Bill could be considered as a group-clown, making sarcastic remarks such as You werent bored, were you? when he addressed Cohn after a bull-fight Cohn said was going to bore him. He is the odd one, in a sense. When hes watching a bull-fight, he knows what to look at and what details are not important. Bill knows that the horses part is not important, a spectator needs to focus on the bulls. Bill is similar to a tour guide. He leads the characters through their problems and concerns. Bill holds the neutral position, like many males, he likes to stay out of other peoples business.
Jakes true weakness is the impotence of his will and the supposed hero of the novel is flawed due to his failure to adhere to what he believes is right and wrong. Hemingway betrays larger socio-cultural assumptions about men and masculinity and questions the conventional means in which they are defined in his society.